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Paddle tennis celebrates 50th anniversary at Edgeworth Club

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Paddle tennis at the Edgeworth Club in Sewickley has come a long way.

In 1962, the club became the first in Western Pennsylvania to have a court, said Patty Whalen, a former player who helped organize a dinner-dance held last week to mark the 50th anniversary.

Now, the club has four lighted courts, with men, women and junior players competing across the area in the Western Pennsylvania Platform Tennis Association.

Nathalie Lemieux, the wife of Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, is among the club's players.

Also known as platform tennis, paddle is played primarily in winter months on an elevated court equipped with propane floor heaters.

The heating system melts ice, allowing play outdoors in all weather conditions.

Whalen said she has played in Michigan when the temperature was 12 degrees.

Dressed in winter attire, players use paddles about 18 inches long to hit a spongy, skid-resistant rubber ball measuring 2.5 inches in diameter.

“Paddle is as popular as ever,” Whalen said. “Even municipalities have courts.”

Whalen finds the sport a great way to beat winter doldrums.

“It does make winter seem shorter,” agreed Cassie Ross, 81, who began entering tournaments with her husband, Bill, in the early 1970s. “You're out in the fresh air, which makes you feel so much better.”

With more tennis professionals playing, Jim Miller said the sport is quicker than when he began competing 50 years ago.

Miller, 77, has competed longer than most players.

“My knees are still fine,” Miller said.

Miller enjoys the camaraderie.

“I play with a group of guys who are competitive, but like to kid each other and socialize afterwards,” he said.

With more than 500 facilities, paddle tennis also has grown nationally, said Ann Sheedy, executive director of the American Platform Tennis Association.

Before 1960, the association had only 46 members.

“Platform players are addicted to their sport,” said Sheedy, who lives in Fox Chapel and has competed in tournaments and league matches at the Edgeworth Club.

According to Sheedy, the Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale, N.Y. was the first to build platform tennis courts, in 1931.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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